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Disharmony behind Mauritian Veneer

Although it lies 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of the continent, Mauritius is an African country. Hindu migrants from India account for 51 percent of the population of 1.1 million, Muslims from India 18 percent and Black Africans, descendants of African slaves and Dutch and French colonists, about 27 percent. The rest are Chinese or, like Berenger, Franco-Mauritians.

Britain was the colonial power from 1815 to independence in 1968, and English is the official language, but it is only spoken out of necessity. Everyone speaks Creole which stems from French rule from 1725 to 1815.

Thanks to sugar, textiles, tourism and harmony, Mauritius has developed into one of Africa's most prosperous nations whose per capita annual income of $3,600 is 10 times that of most continental African nations.

It is also one of the most peaceful.

Nevertheless, politics in Mauritius are anything but simple. The nation has a history of coalition governments that often fall apart midway through their five-year terms. The same protagonists continue to compete for the post of prime minister.

Behind the veneer of paradise there is more disharmony and marginalisation than might at first appear.

Black Africans marginalised

Slaves were first brought to the island from the African mainland by the Dutch and then the French in the 1600s and 1700s.

The slaves were freed when Britain took over in the 19th century - but as the market for Mauritian sugar grew, tens of thousands of indentured labourers were brought in from British India.

Since independence in 1968 the prime minister has always been a Mauritian of Indian Hindu origin.

The Indians replaced the Africans cutting the cane, did well in business, and as their numbers increased, they became the majority of the population, and their influence grew.

Since independence in 1968 the prime minister has always been a Mauritian of Indian Hindu origin, and never a Black African.

Race Riot

The big hotels hide the African slums from view

Mauritian Creoles not only live in poverty in the slums, they suffer severe discrimination - trying to get into the civil service, or for example, the police force.

Astonishingly... the first - very short - African news bulletins have only just appeared on the airwaves.

More often than they should, Black Africans fail at school, or turn to alcohol, drugs and prostitution.

But some steps are now being taken to try to sort things out.

Astonishingly, although 'Creole' is the language spoken across this most ethnically diverse of countries, the first - very short - Black news bulletins have only just appeared on the airwaves.

And now there's to be a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

A new government has been elected - it's pledged to put the first non-Hindu prime minister in office.

The civil service and the police force will be reformed.

It's like this island society as a whole - if you stick to the main routes, never look behind the beautiful hotels surrounded by brilliant fresh green sugar cane fields into the Black slums, you would never know there was a problem.

Map of Mauritius
Basic info

BBC: Disharmony behind Mauritian veneer

To be continued....

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